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Man who championed local salmon for 50 years has passed away

June 10, 2022 Updated Fri., June 10, 2022 at 10:04 p.m.

By Aspen Shumpert Peninsula Gateway

GIG HARBOR, Wash. – Lawrence William Oathout, an ally to salmon for more than 50 years, moved to Gig Harbor at the age of 14.

Oathout died at his Gig Harbor home May 12 at the age of 66 after battling prostate cancer that spread throughout his body the past few years, loved ones said. He “showed a tremendous interest in the vast waters of the Puget Sound,” his family wrote in an obituary.

In high school, Oathout participated in many activities that entailed being around the water. Oathout started a salmon enhancement program on Crescent Creek when he was Key Club president at Peninsula High School. It raised 350,000 fish each year.

“His hatcheries helped revive the spawning, return and population of four different species of salmon in the Gig Harbor area,” his family wrote in his obituary.

Oathout remained a salmon ally for the rest of his life. The Oathout family house is located on Crescent Creek.

“When the city wanted to build a road over the creek he fought for the rights of the salmon and protecting the wildlife. Always acting as the custodian of the fish for Crescent Valley,” his son, Sol Oathout told the Gateway on May 31.

In the mid 1990s Oathout had a salmon incubation project where Crescent Creek ran through his property. He raised salmon in little stream side incubators. Those incubators were 5-gallon buckets that allowed water to flow in the bottom and out the top, keeping the eggs safe until they hatched and popped out on their own into the stream, project partner Adam Couto said.

“Larry was passionate about helping salmon and helping the community,” Couto said. “He didn’t do anything halfway. He was 110 percent into every single thing he did.”

Some may also remember Oathout and Couto as the men behind the Minter Creek Bridge in the 1990s. Culverts were blocking fish from going upstream in Rocky Creek. The state funded a project to replace the culvert tunnel with a bridge based on Oathout and Couto’s recommendation.

“Now when you go there you will see a bridge with the water flowing underneath it very easily,” Couto told the Gateway on May 31.

Lawrence also served on the board of directors for Group Action for Peninsula People (GAPP), a nonprofit for children with special needs that works to raise funds to provide activities such as bowling for them. Their ultimate goal was to build houses for kids to move into after high school where they could be cared for properly. Lawrence was part of the plans for building the GAPP House in Gig Harbor, where his son Brenon ended up living, according to Sue Goldberg, a former colleague at GAPP and Harbor Hope.

Harbor Hope Center is a nonprofit organization in Gig Harbor created by Oathout and Goldberg. Its main goal is to help “individuals and families experiencing homelessness, poverty, hunger, broken homes, drug and alcohol-related problems,” its website says. After both worked with GAPP, they wanted to create something local that could help the community, his family said.

“He was an advocate for the special needs community, and an amazing man. Larry was one of those people that comes into your life and leaves an indelible mark upon your heart. He was always up for anything, no matter what you needed help with and he did it with a smile. I feel better for having known him,” Goldberg told the Gateway on June 1.

Other accomplishments by Oathout include his term as vice president of Harbor Hope, volunteer work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and fundraising for Harbor Holidays and the Rainbow Festival.

While spending over 45 years in the construction industry, he also helped organize the Race for a Soldier event with Washington Patriot Construction, raising awareness and funding for mental health and wellness for military veterans, according to his family.

Oathout’s family said his last Puget Sound project was at the Point Defiance Marina for the Northwest Salmon Research Enhancement Project, working “with the community, local tribes, and youth to supervise the rearing and raising of his beloved salmon,” the obituary said.

The family wrote that he’s “survived by his wife Susan, daughter Lauren, son Solomon, son-in-law Robert, grandson James, brother Vance,” sisters Merrily and Lois Elaine, as well as “cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends.”

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